Latest news

Racial vilification law - NSW Government defers response

The new Attorney General Brad Hazzard has disappointed many with his unexplained deferral of the NSW Government’s response to the important and –in the current context- highly significant report of the standing committee on law and justice into NSW racial vilification laws. This was given to the Government in December 2013 and its response has been awaited for some time.

The committee had been asked by the Government to inquire into whether Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act which created the offence of serious racial vilification was effective and if it established a realistic test, in line with community expectations, for the offence of racial vilification. It was also asked to advise on any improvements to Section 20D ‘having regard to the continued importance of freedom of speech”.

There was no radical shift proposed by the report. The committee unanimously made a number of modest recommendations for improvements mainly focussed on removing ‘procedural impediments’ to successful criminal prosecution for serious racial vilification. The absence of any successful criminal prosecutions under the Act had been cited by the then Premier Barrie O’Farrell as the main driver for the inquiry.

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Police powers - safeguards further weakened

Legislation amending police powers and responsibilities and related citizens' protections was introduced into the nsw parliament in late may through the  Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Amendment Bill 2014.  Many of the changes were about clarification of the law or improvements in operational efficiency for police with no negative impact on citizens' rights and protections. NSWCCL supported these.  However, some of the changes were less justifiable and had more worrying implications. 

Our most urgent concern was in relation to the weakening of the current  requirement that police must identify themselves when exercising their powers (eg arrest or move on) otherwise their exercise of the power is unlawful. The bill seeks to repeal the consequences provision.  Failure to identify oneself when making an arrest or exercising other law enforcement powers will not render the exercise of the power unlawful. This is a dangerous amendment as it removes what has been a powerful incentive for police to abide by this important safeguard and accountability requirement that they give their name and place of work when exercising their considerable powers over community members.

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Out of sight, out of mind - amnesty panel addressed by NSWCCL

Amnesty invited a panel of experts to the Wesley Theatre on 7 May 14 to address two important questions:

What is the impact of Australia’s current approach on asylum seekers? and

What are the legal implications on an international scale? And what could we be doing instead?

Jo Murphy from the NSWCCL addressed the effect of the punitive government policies on the rights and lives of the 40,000 odd asylum seekers currently living in the Australian community.

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Premier urged to restore independence to attorney generals and police ministries

NSWCCL has strong concerns about the recent amalgamation of the attorney generals and justice portfolio into a single cluster with the police and emergency services portfolio. Initially this arrangement specified the police minster as the senior coordinating minister above the attorney general  and minister for justice. The cluster and the department were both named 'Police and Justice'. This appeared to subordinate the attorney general and senior law officer to the police minister and will erode confidence in the rule of law in nsw. 

The unexpected resignation of the police minister led to the ministerial  relationship being reversed so that the current attorney and minister for justice, Brad Hazzard, is now the senior minister. 

This is a welcome improvement of an embarrassing arrangement for the state's first law officer  but does not address the core problem with these new arrangements. 

The amalgamation of the attorney general, justice and police ministers, functions and agencies into a single cluster and a single department is totally inappropriate - regardless of nomenclature and relative status of ministers. In a democracy robust debate between these portfolios on matters of policy is to be expected. The new administrative arrangements are likely to have a constraining impact on such debate coming to public awareness.  

The Premier needs  to restore separate administrative arrangements to these  important  ministries immediately. 

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NSWCCL President opposes police association call for new mandatory minimum sentencing

Yesterday the  NSW Police Association called for a  two year mandatory sentence for people convicted of assaulting police.  NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has spoken strongly against this proposal:

'The Police Association should take notice of the recent debate on mandatory sentencing in the NSW Parliament.  Mandatory sentencing is unfair and not effective to reduce crime.  Judges need to have discretion when imposing sentences so that all relevant circumstances can be taken into account.' 

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NSWCCL commends parliamentary committee report on Senate election reforms

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters today released its much anticipated interim report on its inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 federal election. The interim report deals with the Senate voting practices.  

NSWCCL commends this hugely important report and supports its recommendations for urgently needed reform to the Senate electoral process.

The Senate electoral system is in disrepute. In the 2013 elections, fundamental democratic principles were breached. Consequently, NSWCCL has seen reform of the Senate voting processes as one of the most significant, current civil liberties issues and has made two submissions and appeared to give evidence to the Committee.

The Committee is appropriately scathing in its assessment of the 2013 procedures -as a few quotes from the Foreward well illustrate: 

'The 2013 federal election will long be remembered as a time when our system of Senate voting let voters down.’

….‘Combined with pliable and porous party registration rules, the system of voting for a single party above the line and delegating the distribution of preferences to that party, delivered, in some cases, outcomes that distorted the will of the voter.’

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NSWCCL reaffirms argument for urgent democratic reform of the Senate electoral system

NSWCCL has made two submissions and given oral evidence to the various stages of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 federal election.  Initially we responded to a useful private members bill introduced by Senator Xenophon advocating optional preferential voting for the Senate. NSWCCL supported that bill in a submission made in December 2013.  Subsequently on 7 February 2014 NSWCCL gave oral evidence before the Federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in which we articulated a set of civil liberties principles that guided our analysis and which we believed had been breached by the 2013 voting processes.

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Supplementary submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Above the Line Voting) Bill 2013 - May 2014

NSWCCL has made a supplementary submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Above the Line Voting) Bill 2013.

There is a need to reform the electoral system to ensure that it translates cast votes into a Parliament truly reflecting the collective view of voters.

The following reforms must be made:

  • Introducing optional preferential voting in Senate elections both above and below the line
  • Abolishing group voting tickets for Senate elections
  • Reforming the party registration system.

Failure to reform the electoral system is not an option. Doing so would bring it into further disrepute.

Click here for the supplementary submission


NSWCCL opposes abolition of independent monitor of counter-terrorism laws

NSWCCL has made a submission to the senate committee inquiring into the Government’s proposal to abolish the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM)  as part of its  ‘red tape bonfire’.

The INSLM is an important independent position set up in 2010 with broad review functions relating to the intensely sensitive and complex area of counter-terrorism laws: whether these laws remain proportionate to the threat of terrorism in Australia and whether they contain appropriate safeguards to protect the rights of individuals.  

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NSWCCL condemns government proposals on racial vilification legislation

NSWCCL totally opposes the amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Freedom of Speech Repeal of S.18C) Bill 2014 issued as an exposure draft by the Commonwealth Attorney-General on the 25th March 2014.

The amendments will dramatically narrow the definition of unlawful racist speech and the contexts in which racial vilification will be allowed are so broad as to include almost every context in which public racist abuse could occur. The Act will effectively be gutted removing vital protections against racial vilification that have worked well for 20 years.  

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